A New Jersey judge was permanently barred from the bench this week for asking an alleged rape victim in court if she closed her legs in an attempt to prevent the attack.
According to The Hill, Ocean County Superior Court Judge John Russo Jr. can no longer adjudicate cases in the state after a unanimous decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court, which cited his disturbing comment as the most serious of four troubling offenses. Russo made the remark during a hearing in 2016 that involved a woman seeking a restraining order against her alleged attacker.
According to court transcripts, the judge quizzed her on how to “stop somebody from having intercourse with you,” as The Hill reported.
“Block your body parts?” he asked, according to The Hill. “Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?”
“No witness…should be treated that way”
Although Russo has since apologized for the comments, attempting to explain them as an effort to “re-engage” a “demoralized” witness, the damage was done. In the higher court’s ruling on Tuesday, Chief Justice Stuart J. Rabner argued that Russo’s defense does not “square with the record” and reveals that he does not have the maturity necessary for the position.
“No witness, alleged victim, or litigant should be treated that way in a court of law,” Rabner wrote, according to The Hill.
He added that judges “set the tone for a courtroom,” noting that in sensitive cases like those involving sexual assault claims, “that tone must be dignified, solemn, and respectful, not demeaning or sophomoric,” NBC News reported.
A panel of three judges recommended Russo’s removal in January and he had been suspended without pay for three months last year, according to The Hill.
“We’re all going to find you”
The 2016 comment was not the only controversy cited in the decision to strip him of his title. In its ruling, the Supreme Court also pointed to a pattern of “repeated and serious acts of misconduct,” specifically referencing three incidents showing that he was not fit for the position, as NJ.com noted.
Russo reportedly threatened a woman in a paternity case with financial penalties when she refused to share her address. “He’s going to find you, ma’am. We’re all going to find you,” Russo told the woman over the phone in an exchange Rabner called “disturbing,” according to NBC.
The former judge was also faulted for using his position to reschedule a guardianship case in another county that involved his ex-wife and son, as well as lowering child support payments for a man he admitted knowing since high school.
Regardless of political persuasion, the news of Russo’s dismissal is likely to evoke a similar response: Good riddance.